Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 79

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Chapter LXXIX

The question now arose what was to be done with the children.  I explained to Ernest that their expenses must be charged to the estate, and showed him how small a hole all the various items I proposed to charge would make in the income at my disposal.  He was beginning to make difficulties, when I quieted him by pointing out that the money had all come to me from his aunt, over his own head, and reminded him there had been an understanding between her and me that I should do much as I was doing, if occasion should arise.

He wanted his children to be brought up in the fresh pure air, and among other children who were happy and contented; but being still ignorant of the fortune that awaited him, he insisted that they should pass their earlier years among the poor rather than the rich.  I remonstrated, but he was very decided about it; and when I reflected that they were illegitimate, I was not sure but that what Ernest proposed might be as well for everyone in the end.  They were still so young that it did not much matter where they were, so long as they were with kindly decent people, and in a healthy neighbourhood.

“I shall be just as unkind to my children,” he said, “as my grandfather was to my father, or my father to me.  If they did not succeed in making their children love them, neither shall I.  I say to myself that I should like to do so, but so did they.  I can make sure that they shall not know how much they would have hated me if they had had much to do with me, but this is all I can do.  If I must ruin their prospects, let me do so at a reasonable time before they are old enough to feel it.”

He mused a little and added with a laugh:—

“A man first quarrels with his father about three-quarters of a year before he is born.  It is then he insists on setting up a separate establishment; when this has been once agreed to, the more complete the separation for ever after the better for both.”  Then he said more seriously: “I want to put the children where they will be well and happy, and where they will not be betrayed into the misery of false expectations.”

In the end he remembered that on his Sunday walks he had more than once seen a couple who lived on the waterside a few miles below Gravesend, just where the sea was beginning, and who he thought would do.  They had a family of their own fast coming on and the children seemed to thrive; both father and mother indeed were comfortable well grown folks, in whose hands young people would be likely to have as fair a chance of coming to a good development as in those of any whom he knew.

We went down to see this couple, and as I thought no less well of them than Ernest did, we offered them a pound a week to take the children and bring them up as though they were their own.  They jumped at the offer, and in another day or two we brought the children down and left them, feeling that we had done as well as we could by them, at any rate for the present.  Then Ernest sent his small stock of goods to Debenham’s, gave up the house he had taken two and a half years previously, and returned to civilisation.

I had expected that he would now rapidly recover, and was disappointed to see him get as I thought decidedly worse.  Indeed, before long I thought him looking so ill that I insisted on his going with me to consult one of the most eminent doctors in London.  This gentleman said there was no acute disease but that my young friend was suffering from nervous prostration, the result of long and severe mental suffering, from which there was no remedy except time, prosperity and rest.

He said that Ernest must have broken down later on, but that he might have gone on for some months yet.  It was the suddenness of the relief from tension which had knocked him over now.

“Cross him,” said the doctor, “at once.  Crossing is the great medical discovery of the age.  Shake him out of himself by shaking something else into him.”

I had not told him that money was no object to us and I think he had reckoned me up as not over rich.  He continued:—

“Seeing is a mode of touching, touching is a mode of feeding, feeding is a mode of assimilation, assimilation is a mode of recreation and reproduction, and this is crossing—shaking yourself into something else and something else into you.”

He spoke laughingly, but it was plain he was serious.  He continued:—